Five Qs: Michael Layne on the Evolution of Public Relations

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Michael Layne, CEO and co-founder with the late Fred Marx of Marx Layne Marketing and Public Relations in Farmington Hills, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the importance of integrated marketing, crisis management, and instant news cycles.

1. DDN: How does the perception of public relations differ from reality?

ML: Public relations is such a vague term. As a matter of fact, the Public Relations Society of America was trying to come up with a different term for the industry because a lot of think people think it’s someone who picks up the phone and knows people in the media. And that’s true — publicity is part of it, but it encompasses several disciplines. There’s also shared media, which can be designing websites, newsletters, and brochures. There’s owned media, like print or broadcast advertising. And then there’s experiential, which is a fancy way of saying special events. It could be working on a large event, like Arts, Beats and Eats (in downtown Royal Oak over Labor Day weekend), which we’ve managed for several years, or helping our clients host a webinar or a small lunch with 15 prospects. We also handle crisis communications.

2. DDN: When do businesses approach you for your crisis services?

ML: Businesses should have a plan in place before they even run into a crisis (i.e., discrimination charges, workplace violence, issues related to hazardous environmental materials). Any business could be subject to a crisis at any time, and actually, a lot of the large insurance companies now are starting to pay for public relations services as it relates to crisis communications because they realize that the value of a company’s brand can be significantly damaged if they don’t respond properly to the news media in the midst of a crisis. It used to be that if a company had a crisis, it wouldn’t hit until 12 hours later. But now, with social media, the news can travel within minutes of the initial crisis.

3. DDN: How else has the industry changed?

ML: When I first started in the business (in 1987) with Fred Marx you could spend maybe $10,000 for ads in one of the daily papers and reach 70 percent of your targeted market. Now the market is so fragmented that people are bombarded with messaging from the moment they get out bed to the moment they crawl back into bed. They probably look at their computer while eating breakfast, turn on the radio in the car, pass God-knows-how-many billboards on the way to work, get to work and turn the computer back on, and then read various newsletters and newspapers. It’s getting harder and harder to convey an entity’s message effectively to its targeted audience.

4. DDN: How do you reach your clients’ key constituencies?

ML: One of the reasons I love the business I’m in is because I feel that our sweet spot is integrated marketing. It’s really about creating content that resonates with end users. For example, we’ve had a lot of companies come to us after they’ve gone to a web company to design their website. (The firm) might understand computer programming, but in terms of copy and content creation, and the purpose of the website, they really don’t understand the business goals. So when we can manage a client’s media relations, create their messaging, manage their website and social media, and orchestrate their events, that’s where we feel the marketing is most effective.

5. DDN: What kind of growth do you foresee in the next year?

ML: We’ve always kind of maintained a steady slow growth. I don’t want to name our clients, but we’ve had a fantastic 2014, which found us representing some major Fortune 500 brands that are doing business either in metro Detroit or throughout the Midwest. But what I pride myself most on is the retention of long-term clients. We have some brands that have been with us for 10 years or more. I think you can measure success not just by the new business that you’ve just made, but the clients who have stayed with you because you give them a high-quality product.

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